Protest closes Israel's 'apartheid road' through West Bank
BY HARRIET SHERWOOD, THE GUARDIAN, 24 JAN 2019
A new road in the West Bank that separates Palestinian and Israeli drivers was closed by protesters on Wednesday, before they were dispersed by Israeli police deploying teargas and stun grenades.
Route 4370 is dubbed the “apartheid road” by some campaigners because of its 8-metre dividing wall of concrete and metal. The western side of the road is principally for Israelis, and the eastern side principally for Palestinians.
The road, which opened earlier this month, allows residents of Jewish settlements in the West Bank to reach Jerusalem faster than if they had to pass through the congested Hizma checkpoint north of the city.
The Palestinian side of the road is designed to take cars into an underpass that will eventually connect the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem without motorists having to drive through Jerusalem. Most Palestinians living in the West Bank do not have permits to enter Jerusalem.
A group of protesters, comprising Israeli, Palestinian and international activists, blocked access to the road for about 30 minutes on Wednesday morning, holding a banner saying “No to apartheid, no to annexation”. One person was arrested and another injured.
“We came to protest against the opening of what is essentially an apartheid road. This road is mainly meant to benefit settlers. We don’t support segregated roads built on Palestinian land,” said Maya Rosen, one of the protesters.
She said police had used teargas and stun grenades to disperse protesters. Israeli police could not be contacted for comment.
Israeli officials say that both sides of the roads are open to Israelis and Palestinians as long as they have the correct documentation.
Yisrael Gantz, the head of the Binyamin regional council, which represents more than 40 settlements and outposts in the West Bank, said the new road was “no less than an oxygen line for the region’s residents, who work, study and go out for entertainment in Jerusalem”. Access to the city had been “revolutionised”, he said.
“The claim that this is an apartheid road is complete nonsense. Apartheid is discrimination based on ethnic and racial background,” Gantz told CNN. “The entry to Jerusalem through the [eastern] road is allowed to all those who have a legal entry permit, regardless of their nationality, religion, ethnic or racial background.”
At the road’s opening ceremony, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister of public security, said the road was “one move of many to strengthen … sovereignty in the region.”
He added: “The road that was opened today is an example of how we can create mutual life between Israelis and Palestinians, while at the same time safeguarding all the existing security challenges.”
Hanan Ashwari, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) executive, said: “The creation of this new apartheid road affirms Israel’s wilful intent to entrench its racist colonial regime and superimpose ‘Greater Israel’ on all of historic Palestine.
“With the blanket support of the current US administration, including endorsement of Israel’s egregious violations and total disdain for international law and the global consensus, Israel is successfully destroying the territorial contiguity and territorial integrity of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) to enhance its colonial settlement enterprise and facilitate the creation of bantustans throughout occupied Palestine.”
Bantustans or “homelands” were areas set aside for black South Africans under the apartheid regime.
Israel has previously segregated roads in the West Bank. A section of route 443 was barred to Palestinian vehicles – easily identifiable by their green number plates – for eight years before Israel’s high court ordered the policy to end in 2010.
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